Ticked off my London bucket list is Ronnie Scott’s, the capital’s most famous and probably oldest jazz club and a worldwide known, legendary institution which opened in 1959.
No one in our group of four has been here before but tonight is the night. Tickets have been ordered eight days in advance and by then the 6 o’clock show had already been sold out. We are going for the second show of the evening: The doors open at 22.30pm and the music starts 45 minutes later. Just in case etiquette for this establishment has been researched but neither flipflops or shorts are on the table in early April. When we arrive in Firth Street a note outside claims it is a full house tonight. There is an upstairs (also called 1st house) and a downstairs entry where we are tonight, in the 2nd house.
We are a tad late, the band has started already and we are being led to our seats – we have opted for the cheapest tickets but could not be happier: Tonight’s act goes by the name of Omar Hakim & Rachel Z OZ Experience feat. Linley Marthe & Kurt Rosenwinkel (names none of us recalls) but the audience clearly communicates that the drummer is the star of the evening and so the musicians are at the back end of the stage, so the pole apparently restricting our view is not restricting our view at all.
There is no jazz expert among us, we all admit. I love Woody Allen’s film Sweet and Lowdown and believe that also the film Whiplash deserves more attention outside the feuilletons. I own a Jamie Callum-CD which I guilt-ridden purchased after having done what is known in Hamburg as “Audioklau”, so audio theft – picnicking just outside an open-air venue and listening to the music for free; in Hamburg particularly popular in the Stadtpark, the city’s biggest park. When I was actually treated to a jazz concert ticket at the very same stage for Helge Schneider (who is far more famous for his obscure comedic moments but recently filled Hamburg’s new opera house) rain soaked me completely. I guess this was karma kicking in.
It takes a while for our untrained ears to get into the grooves, the musician on bass guitar and e-guitar are crafting some impressive tunes but the combination of the four is sometimes difficult to follow. The piano player switches between her piano, her keyboards and laptops and adds unexpected chords. This is very different from what we expected. That’s true jazz I guess.
Because jazz musicians have a wonderful way of introducing each other we learn that the band formation tonight is a premiere, that each member is connected one way or another through a band called Weather Report (we do not know them either, but the audience cheers every time they are mentioned) and that the drummer and piano player are actually married. Everyone on stage seems to be full of admiration for each other and the sparks hit us as well at some point and so we watch them smilingly watching each other smilingly, then watch the crowd watching the band: Some play invisible drums along with their eyes closed, others move their bottoms still sitting on their chairs and everyone respects the signs on the table asking not to talk during the performance. I see no phones or photos during the whole performance either. At the back the bar keeper juggles a cocktail shaker in each hand to the rhythm of the music and when our waitress is not taking orders, she sways along next to the stage.
I am going out to where you must go after having enjoyed champagne in a world known establishment in Soho just after midnight and catch in the foyer a conversation of guys referring to the music as fusion and claiming the drummer being too good for the others to compete or play along with. Who am I to agree or not, I have a great night!
After the gig the queue to have a picture taken with the musician is not ending and the fans leave with a big smile which is indeed contagious. The last band for the night is already setting up their equipment on stage for the Late Late Show when still selfies are taken and autographs are given.
Our tickets allow us to stay for the third gig slot as well and what this Welsh foursome around front man Andy Davies plays is a lot closer to what we expected to hear in a jazz club, the style introduced to us as bebop, with a beret-crowned trumpet player in the front, classic bass wonderfully plucked, drums (a second drum kit has been set up next to the previous one) and – cheekily announced by the band leader – the best piano player in his price range. If funky jazz nick names are being shared tonight we miss them as at 2pm tiredness kicks in and it is a long cab journey home.
Tickets solely for the Late Late Show are usually cheaper: The crux for this slot starting at 1am is that the names of the artists performing are not made public beforehand. Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and Jimi Hendrix (apparently in his last performance) all did the Late Late Show before and if I look around the low ceilings, the cosy red table lamps and the homely seating plans I cannot think of a more intimate atmosphere.
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club is in 47 Frith Street in W1D 4HT and best reached via Underground, either via Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square or Covent Garden.
The program varies strongly but with regular show times, up to three a day. Booking in advance is advised. For more information on this please visit: www.ronniescotts.co.uk
Ticket prices start between £12 and £20.